How do you top winning a state track championship in your freshman year of high school? Well, if you’re Rappahannock County High School’s Julia Wood, you follow it up with two state titles — three if you count cross country!
Last Saturday (June 7), Wood ran for the Panthers’ varsity girls’ track team in the Virginia High School League’s Group 1A State Track Championship at Radford University. Wood, the defending state champ in the 1,600 (one mile), defended her title and then added a second state championship medal for the 3,200 (2-mile), lapping almost the entire field on her way.
Combined with the Group 1A State Title she won in cross country last fall and last spring’s track title, Wood has now won four state championships — with two more years of high school still to go!
It was a satisfying conclusion to a season filled with hiccups due to illness and injury, and a tribute to Wood’s work ethic. “I was just so excited that everything had finally come together for me,” Wood said a few days later, “and then I turned around and saw my teammate, Emily Allen, fighting for second place! Her incredible finish definitely helped to make the race memorable!”
Asked about her thoughts when the 1600 was over (and a second state championship in hand for the day), she replied, “My 3200 and 1600 races today were a great end to my sophomore track season, and then I was excited to go see the rest of my teammates excel in all of their events.”
Her team’s overall finish — the Panthers finished fourth — was also cause for celebration. “I am so proud of our team at states — Emily, Kayla, Emma Dee, Sara, Jessica and Julia Estes. Seven girls placed fourth at states! That’s just amazing!”
Wood also had many thanks to give out. “I would like to thank my coaches, our school administration, especially Mr. Swindler and Mr. Tupper, all of my incredible teammates and my family. I could never have done this without all of their help and support. And, a special thanks to Tom Papke at Capital Metro Physical Therapy for helping me work through all of the physical challenges this season.”
Having an athlete of Wood’s caliber is not exactly an everyday occurrence and presents its own set of challenges to an athletic department, coaches and even to the parents. Athletic director Jimmy Swindler complimented Wood’s parents, Angela and HB Wood, and track coaches Scott Stephens, Heather Puskar and Justin Maffei for working together in the past season to allow Wood to sometimes follow her own specific training program and also compete in some prestigious events, which often came at the expense of competing in regular-season school events.
“We are all on the same page, wanting the best for Julia and for all our student athletes, and I am thrilled that we have been able to have Julia showcase her gifts to a wider audience while at the same time benefitting our team and our program with her accomplishments,” said Swindler. “Looking forward, I can only see more good things to come for both Julia and the varsity track and cross county programs.”
Swindler noted that one tangible benefit to Wood’s accomplishments has been an increase in interest and participation in Rapp’s running programs, reflected by larger numbers of student athletes coming out for those teams.
With the VHSL track season over, most would expect Wood to take a break from training; when asked what her plans were for the coming weeks, she reported, “I’m actually really ready and excited for cross country to start — after a short break, that is. We have such a strong, dedicated team returning this season and I know there are going to be great things in store for all of us.”
Despite a continuing rigorous schedule, with any luck Wood will find some time this summer to reflect on her accomplishments and take a breather — if only a brief one before getting ready for that cross country season this fall.